During the past decade, diversity training has become a huge industry, with many companies implementing programs aimed at helping all employees feel valued while reducing bias and unfairness. That’s the stated purpose, and it sounds great; but when you get right down to it, the reason most companies implement diversity training programs is to, hopefully, reduce liability issues including potentially costly lawsuits. And what’s more, recent studies have been indicating that most diversity training programs simply don’t work.
In fact, one study from Harvard University looked at 829 companies over three decades and found that the training resulted in “no positive effects in the average workplace.” Even worse, the researchers also found that in workplaces where diversity training is mandatory, the training “actually has negative effects on management diversity.”
The researchers noted that the very nature of diversity training forces people to think in terms of categories. In the end, employees are more likely to dehumanize people than to see them as individuals.
Mentor programs appear to be very effective, the study says. Such programs can provide everyone with connections to “higher ups,” and they are generally better accepted than training programs, possibly because they are available to everyone, not just specific groups.
“Mentor programs put aspiring managers in contact with people who can help them move up, both by offering advice and by finding them jobs,” the study authors found. “This strategy appears to work.”
The study found another good approach to ensuring diversity in the current workplace and in hiring practices is to put one person or a group of people in charge, acting as a diversity manager or task force. Managers and task forces can be effective because they focus on identifying both specific problems and remedies.
“Managers and task forces feel accountable for change, and they monitor quarterly employment data to see if their efforts are paying off. If not, it’s back to the drawing board to sketch new diversity strategies.”
The take-home message: Don’t give up on diversity programs in your company, but do spend time exploring other options that may be more effective.